Kashmir Issue: It is time now for a permanent settlement

Kamran Siddiqui

The recent revocation of Articles 370 and 35(a) of the Indian constitution by the Modi government has created an uproar across South Asia. There is a divided option on this action, where those in favor, primarily BJP supporter are hailing it as a historic and overdue move. On the other hand, the opponents are arguing this action as unconstitutional and its way of implementation is not only a scar on the Indian democracy but also an attempt to further suppress Kashmiri people.

The Kashmir issue is almost as old as the independence of India and Pakistan from British rule. Over the past 72 years, the issue has been kept alive primarily as a tool to increase animosity between India and Pakistan, to develop hater between the people of the two countries and depriving them from socio-economic wellbeing by diverting their developmental budget on defense spending. The Kashmiri people are also suffering due to this ongoing conflict.

Since the ceasefire in January 1949, neither of the two sides have any territorial gains in Kashmir and despite claiming the territory on the other side, pragmatically it is not very likely that the ground realities will change. An all-out war between India and Pakistan may change the border but any territorial gain/loss even symbolic, will cause the citizens of India and Pakistan to pay a heavy price on the socio-economic developmental front due to the war; a price in addition to what they are paying for past 72 years.

It is not fair for citizens of India and Pakistan to sacrifice their fundamental rights of access to health, education and essential resources while, their governments are spending billions of rupees on military resources for a conflict that neither side has been able to win militarily. Despite agreeing to the UN resolution, Simla Agreement, and Lahore Declaration, all of which emphasized on a political solution of this issue, the political status quo has been maintained by both countries.

A lack of progress on the political front has led to the adaptation of non-political ways to keep the issue alive, which includes the support for militancy from Pakistan through proxy organizations and the brutal crushing of insurgency from the Indian side. The casualty in both cases are the innocent Kashmiri people. A permanent solution to the Kashmir issue is not possible unless this political status quo is broken.

An attempt by the Modi government to break the political status quo is certainly a step in the right direction but unfortunately it was executed in such a frightening and undemocratic way that it is not only undermining the very essence of the democratic principles but also fails to demonstrate the sincerity of the government to seek a peaceful solution of the issue.

After accession, State of Jammu and Kashmir maintained a special confederate status within India, whereas per the Instrument of Accession, has control over all administrative affairs except defense, external affairs, and communications. It is understandable that the State administration was concerned about the residency issue. The protection of residency status through Article 35A was not a new concept for the State of Jammu and Kashmir; the State Subject Rule was introduced in Kashmir in 1927.  However, a strict residency control through Article 35(a) was not a beneficial tool in the long run for the socio-economic growth of the state.

Such restrictions, for example, are misused by those in power by manipulating their privileges that leads to corruption. These could also serve as obstructions in attracting investors, businesses and skilled workforce, vital for economic growth. There are plenty of examples from across the globe that demonstrate that the permanent residency programs for skilled workers have a much higher impact on economic growth than the foreign workers.

The arguments in support of the revocation of Articles 370 and 35(a) in the context of the economic growth and prosperity of the people in Jammu and Kashmir have weight. The articles 370 and 35(a) should have been negotiated between the central government of India and the state government of Jammu and Kashmir and settled down a long time ago, ideally, within a decade after Kashmir’s accession to India. A delay in such action has made the situation bad to worst.

While it is never too late to address this issue but the approach used by Modi government was like throwing fuel in the fire. Stripping the rights all of a sudden without proper legal process questions the intentions of the action. The appropriate way to address the issue would be to take the government and people of Jammu and Kashmir into confidence and through negotiations, reach an arrangement that guarantees economic prosperity of the people while fully integrating the state into India. There is no need to seek the two extreme options. The better option is always a middle path where both parties have to give and take for the overall betterment of both.

For example, on the issue of residency status, an appropriate approach would be to ease up the residency condition but limit it to the fulfillment of certain criteria controlled by the state government that enables the flow of investment, businesses and skilled workforce, without changing the demography. Hence, it is important for the Modi government to take a step back, revive the political framework in the State in the form of the legislative assembly and take the people of the Jammu and Kashmir into confidence to negotiate a settlement. But first and foremost step is to stop human rights violations. Forcing a decision with an iron fist is only going to alienate the people, leading to more violence and suffering of the Kashmiri people.

After 72 years of hostility and multiple wars, neither of the two countries have been able to get any territorial gains on the other side of Kashmir. It is time now to settle this issue permanently by making the line of control a permanent international border and governments of both India and Pakistan absorb their part of Kashmir by negotiating a settlement with the people of Kashmir on their side.

Once the line of control becomes the international border, remove the military presence from both sides and ease up the cross-border travel. Kashmir is practically divided for the last 72 years so a permanent divide that would reduce hostility between the two countries is a better deal. If Punjab and Bengal were divided at the time of partition as a part of settlement then why not Kashmir? If hundreds of other Princely states were absorbed in India and Pakistan than why not Kashmir? This solution would be more beneficial to the Kashmiri people on both sides than the current status quo. A permanent peace between India and Pakistan will lead to improved trade and bilateral relations, bringing prosperity to the citizens of both countries including Kashmiris.  

About the author: Kamran Siddiqui is a Professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

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